The Jeremy Corbyn-inspired grassroots activist group Momentum does not have a “hit list” of Labour MPs it wants to oust from the party, one of the organisation’s leading organisers has claimed.
In an exclusive interview with The Huffington Post UK, Momentum’s James Schneider hit back at fears the organisation is a “shadowy group” formed to get rid of MPs who are critical of Mr Corbyn’s leadership.
Mr Schneider said Momentum was formed to attract support to the Labour movement by demonstrating Mr Corbyn’s political philosophy through actions at a local level.
But he did acknowledge that in a situation where two candidates are contesting for selection ahead of the 2020 General Election, it would be “quite plausible” for a local Momentum group to have a view on who should be chosen.
His interview took place just days after the first signs of infiltration into Momentum from a far-left group became public.
The Trotskyist Worker’s Liberty Party has revealed its members were involved in setting up a branch of Momentum in Lewisham, South London.
The Huffington Post UK has been told that Lewisham Deptford MP Vicky Foxcroft’s local party has been targeted by Momentum activists, with the object of signing up members to the branch and changing its delegates for next year’s Labour conference.
Speaking to The Huffington Post UK, Mr Schneider said, that like Mr Corbyn, “we do not support mandatory reselections.”
He added: “I guess the real concern from someone who is concerned about that bit about the selections is: ‘Are you going to centrally organise to kill people off?’ Then the question would be: ‘Is Momentum not going to have any involvement with selections?’ To which the answer is no, in a particular way.”
When asked what the group would do if after the boundary changes ahead of the next election a right wing Labour MP and a left wing Labour MP were both applying for the same seat, Mr Schneider said: “I can very much imagine that if it was as stark an option as you’re suggesting then I could see how it would be quite plausible that your local Momentum group might have a position on that, they might have some debate and they might say ‘We quite like Lizzy Left’ or whatever it is we're calling her.
“It's not going to be someone in London calling them up.
“It’s not a command and control enterprise, I can't pick up the phone to someone in wherever and say 'right, I am calling from the centre and you must do this thing' because I don’t have to, there's no way, I've got no enforcement mechanism. There’s no way I can make them do that and nor should I. As Jeremy has said right the way through, his kind of politics is about open debate, about discussion.”
He added: “No, we are not going to be some sort of shadowy group that has got a hit list. There's a hit list of Tory MPs.”
When asked if there were any Labour MPs on the hit list, Mr Schneider replied emphatically: “There is no hit list!”
Mr Schneider joined the Labour Party on May 11 – four days after Ed Miliband’s General Election defeat.
The 28-year-old journalist who specialises in African reporting admitted he voted for the Green Party on May 7, but only because “I'm in a safe Labour seat” – Hammersmith, represented by Andy Slaughter since 2010.
Mr Schneider volunteered to help with Mr Corbyn’s leadership campaign as soon as he got onto the ballot, and after spending time in the volunteer office in London was asked to get involved in Momentum.
Mr Schneider claimed the aims of Momentum were to get involved in politics at a local level in order to “build a democratic and civil space in a society that has been aggressively eroded over the last 40 years.”
He did acknowledge that Momentum had a role to defend Mr Corbyn’s position as leader, but “not in the way that one might possibly think.”
Mr Schneider said: “I think we defend Jeremy by growing the Labour Party; by saying: ‘Look what Labour are doing, we’re doing all this great things, all these Labour aligned things, these are Labour values, this is what we're all about. Come and join the Labour Party this is what it's all about.’
“If the Labour Party is growing, it's one sign of the success of Jeremy's leadership which I think defends him against charges that he’s not doing well.
"There are probably some in the Labour Party who are implacably opposed to Jeremy. Most want Labour to win, most really want Labour to win and think ‘if we're doing alright, Jeremy's doing alright, and if Jeremy's doing alright, we're doing alright.’
When asked about the fears that Momentum could flood constituency Labour Party’s in a bid to vote in people they want into positions of power – and therefore got a vote on party policies at the annual conference – Mr Schneider said there would be no central orders of that kind.
He said: “I can;'t imagine anything less attractive to people you're trying to get involved in politics than saying: 'Right the way you need to get involved in politics is you have to turn up at this place, at this time, you have to go into a room where people shout at each other, and you need to do this thing, it doesn't matter if you don't understand why that's what's happening, that's what's been decided somewhere else.'
“It's ideologically terrible, it's strategically terrible, it won’t work, it didn’t work, it's not going to work, we're not going to do it.”
Mr Schneider also played down suggestions that far-left groups could infiltrate Momentum in a bid to take over control of groups and ultimately have an influence on Labour policy and MP selection.
Labour MP Jamie Reed, who tweeted his resignation from Labour’s frontbench a minute into Mr Corbyn’s victory speech last month, said “long standing” Labour members “will have no truck with entryists, wherever they are from.”
The Copeland MP said: "The longer this attempted hostile takeover continues, the more duplicitous the new politics appears.”
Reflecting on the comments from the SWP, Mr Schneider said: “You get no say in an internal Labour thing by joining Momentum. If you think you do, you've made a mistake. It's as simple as that.”
He added: “If someone is coming in in good faith as an individual member of another party and wants to help build this mass movement and signs up to our aims and principles and wants to do something at their local level as an individual - fantastic.
“If an entity is coming in as a party for the purposes of organising for that party and using momentum as a vehicle for them to organise, then that's against our aims and principles, they can't do that.
“An individual member of the SWP if they want to come along to a meeting and get involved and be an active member - yeah.
“If the SWP turn up on mass and try to turn everything into the SWP or try to recruit people then that’s absolutely not ok.
But the same goes for everyone. We want Conservatives to come and be part of it in local areas.
Now, the Conservative Party can't come and join us and try to make us theirs and try to feed off it or do something off it.”
A blog post on the Workers’ Liberty website claimed the party had already infiltrated Momentum.
It read: “Workers’ Liberty members in Lewisham, South London, have been involved in setting up a Jeremy Corbyn supporters network in the borough.”
Referring to a meeting of Corbyn leadership supporters in Lewisham on October 12, the blog continued: “We also agreed to affiliate with the new national Momentum organisation and rename the local network Lewisham for Corbyn — Momentum. We will discuss a longer term name at a future meeting.”